Our local newspaper here in Washington County, the Old Gray Lady with Late-Stage Dementia, the Herald-Mail, has finally redesigned its useless and confounding website. The new version is a vast improvement. I might start reading the paper again.
A story that caught my eye this morning has the headline “Lawmakers consider boosting MD wineries.” Our county delegation to the Maryland General Assembly is considering introducing legislation that will ease restrictions on local wineries, allow them to open earlier and serve food to visitors. Dick Seibert, who owns and runs the Knob Hall Winery near where I grew up in Clear Spring, wants to sell locally made cheese to those who drop by for a tasting or a tour when his new winery building is finished and his first wines start coming in next year. Knob Hall and other wineries in Maryland currently operate under statutes originally intended for liquor stores, and are not allowed to serve food. The legislation being considered would create a new class of liquor license for the state, a W license, that would be designed specifically for wineries.
This could be a rare and welcome example of our representatives in Annapolis actually doing something positive for their constituents. The only member of the local delegation quoted in the story, the normally impotent Chris Shank, says it “sounds like an excellent idea.” No shit. Robert Everhart, chairman of the county liquor board, seems to think it’s a good idea, too. “We’re not against a W license,” he says, although a provision in the new license that would allow wineries to open at 10 A.M. troubles him. He’d rather it were noon. Does he expect many people to show up at Knob Hall before lunch, anxious to get drunk one free sample at a time?
I hope this happens, because it is an excellent idea. I’m not a wine drinker — I don’t drink much alcohol of any kind, I’d rather just have a Coke — but helping a new local industry succeed is in everyone’s best interest.
Winemaking has become sort of a big deal in Maryland the last few decades. We ain’t no Santa Ynez Valley, I haven’t seen Miles and Jack around, but the Maryland Wineries Association has been promoting the industry since 1984, and today its website lists thirty-five wineries either currently operating or opening within the next year, all across the state. Not too shabby. And this is no recent fad, either; the timeline on the MWA’s website puts the earliest winemaking in Maryland in 1648 and has Charles Calvert, son of the man who first settled the colony, planting grapes in 1662. The first American book on viticulture was written by John Adlum, who lived in Havre de Grace over in Harford County. So yeah, Maryland and winemaking, we go way back.
Knob Hall is currently the only winery in Washington County, but if the bill creating the W license passes when it’s introduced into the general assembly next year, Dick Seibert might have some competition. There are still hundreds and hundreds of acres of farmland around here that haven’t been sold to developers. I’d much rather see grapes on those acres than McMansions or shopping centers.
We used to make things here. From 1931 until 1984 Hagerstown was the home of Fairchild Aircraft. We built missiles and planes during World War II, including the C-119 Flying Boxcar which was flown home to our aviation museum over the weekend. No more. We used to make furniture in Hagerstown. Not anymore. We used to be a central location for the railroad — that’s why Hagerstown is still called the Hub City. Now the once great Western Maryland Railroad, where my grandfather worked for most of his adult life, no longer exists. CSX has taken up residence in its old yard, and the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum struggles to survive not far away, but the stretches of abandoned track west of Big Pool testify to what we have lost, and the empty lot next to CSX where one of the largest roundhouses in the world once stood reminds us of what we have given away.
So bring on that class W liquor license. Wine’s not airplanes, it’s not furniture, and it’s not the railroad, but it’s something we can produce around here. It’s an industry we can make our own. Maybe someday we’ll be able to define ourselves here in Washington County by our vineyards instead of our abandoned stores and the rows and rows of identical mass-produced houses that cover so much of the countryside. I’d drink to that.